Category Archives: Maintenance

Why We Love Our Truck

A few weeks ago we talked with Jim’s brother about an upcoming road trip. You might have read our Fiat 500 story two years ago about renting a car instead of taking our truck on a 1,000 mile jaunt? Upcoming was another opportunity to avoid piling expensive miles on the truck. Or was it?

The possibility of saving money and saving our truck caused Jim to run an analysis of life-cycle costs for our truck and see if we made the correct decision last week. We decided not to rent a car for a week-long trip to North Carolina. The truck gets almost 16mpg highway (not towing), is trouble-free, very comfortable, and we don’t have to support a rental company’s O+P if we use our own truck. We’ll get back to the rent decision in a minute.

We love our pickup truck. Full-timers, maybe, maintain a closer relationship to their truck than some folks. If the truck doesn’t go, we can’t either. Bought to tow the Airstream trailer, this truck has met or exceeded all our expectations. The truck just turned 140,000 miles and has towed the Airstream approximately 100,000 miles since July 2006. Below are the new truck’s story and some numbers.

Over eight years ago we bought a new truck. The old Ford 4X4, while fine for the 22′ RV, wasn’t enough to stop or pull our new 25′ RV. The Ford was tired when we bought it. Pretty, nice paint, comfortable, but a worn-out engine. We needed a new truck and were brand indifferent.

What mattered more to us than brand was the right arrangement of features including gas engine, bucket seats, extended cab, 4X4, no sunroof, and some others. We had bought the new Airstream and needed a more capable truck. Ward Williams came to our rescue. Thanks to Williams Buick-GMC in Charlotte, we were able to find a good deal on the right Chevy Silverado 2500HD. The truck apparently was languishing at a dealership in Virginia.

Big Red Truck

Big Red Truck

His buyer found us a truck meeting 5 of our 6 criteria. He called us one day and asked, “Can you go with a red one instead of blue or green?” Once we looked at it we were all in. The truck is a deep red called “Sport Red Metallic” by Chevrolet.

Jim owned three other trucks before this one, all purchased used. And between us, we’d bought, traded, and sold dozens of cars. None of those previous trucks and cars came close to the comfort and technology represented in this 2006 Chevy. No, none of them cost close to the truck’s purchase price.

We’ve never experienced a failure or breakdown of any type. The truck has found no hill too steep, even towing the trailer up or down 15% (that’s really really steep) grades on the Sea-to-Sky Highway in British Columbia. The engine temperature doesn’t vary more than one degree. It’s a little hard on batteries but, really, that’s more Jim’s fault for accessorizing the truck with 12v appliances like ham radio, cb radio, air compressor, trailer tire monitor, and chargers for Apple mobile products.

Folks often ask, “Why didn’t you put a camper shell on the truck?” We thought we were minimalists, having emptied a 3,000 sf house and moving so much less stuff into a 180 sf travel trailer.

We thought you might appreciate seeing some of the numbers we’ve developed on this great truck’s performance. No, nothing like 1/4 mile or 0-60 stuff. These are life cycle cost numbers. Bottom line, we thought we could save the rental cost and at least break even using our truck. See what you think?

copied from worksheet

copied from worksheet

Here’s how it worked out when we ran all the numbers for rental vs using our gas hog truck:

copied from worksheet

copied from worksheet

The $195 saved by not paying tires, oil, maintenance, and gasoline on our truck would be close to breakeven once we paid the fees for renting a subcompact car. Our truck is roomy, comfortable, has XM radio and ham radios, and we like it. According to these numbers, we did okay on our decision. Not great, not saving the world by reducing carbon footprint and fuel usage, but for our pocketbook, we at least broke even.

We made over 15 mpg overall, the best we’ve done since ethanol cut our gas efficiency. We were ready with 4-wheel drive in case those New England/Canadian storms brought snow into our path. Best of all, we enjoyed 1,300 miles Interstate driving together in our big red truck. What a nice way to spend Valentines Day!

See you down the road!

Jim and Debbie
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©2007-2015 Dreamstreamr

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We Saved $11 at Camping World Today

Arrived in Rayne Lousiana a week ago for a rally.  Tried to plug our 30amp cord in for power to the trailer and the 30 amp plug disintegrated in Jim’s hand.  We replaced the oem plug four years ago with a hard plastic one and it seemed okay although it was really difficult to unplug from adapters sometimes.  Now it became unusable and unrepairable.  Fortunately Herb and Lois, full timer friends, were waiting for us and had an adapter we could borrow.  

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We used our 20amp cord (an old 12-3 heavy duty 3-wire tool cord) to power the trailer for the duration of the rally. Today, driving east on I-10, we stopped in Camping World and found a great looking replacement 30a plug.  Jim spent fifteen minutes replacing the plug and we’re back in business.

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The 20a cord works fine for everything we used during the past week.  Our voltage remained above 120 volts even when using the 1,500 watt space heater.  The weather stayed cool enough that we didn’t even consider turning on the air conditioning.  

The weather was very cool last Tuesday, 16 degrees overnight.  Finally today we saw temperatures above 71 degrees as we towed east.   We’re headed for Florida, with a side-trip to NC for some exciting developments we’ll talk about next.

In case you’re interested, here’s the replacement 30a plug we bought.  It is especially nice because it has a D-handle to ease pulling it.

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Glad to be back!  See you soon.

See you down the road!
Jim and Debbie

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©2007-2014 Dreamstreamr

Sitting in the Shade

We’re at a rally of our airstream club, Carolinas Unit of NC, encamped under grand white oak trees. The trees around us are massive, strong and broad. They form a beautiful grove of sheltering long-limbed giants. Throughout the day they allow sunlight to filter through a little. And they add to the night-time darkness, allowing starlight only in the center clearing.

Rally camping in the shade

Rally camping in the shade

Camping in the shade, we can keep the trailer cooler but cannot maintain the batteries with our solar panels. We’re in our third day and still have 80 percent battery capacity remaining despite lots of laptop charging, use of water pump and fans, and lighting throughout the day and evening the previous two days. Battery voltage is sitting at 12.5, so everything is in good shape inside.

Camping in the shade we enjoy the shadows and calm filtered light entering our trailer. Sort of makes an argument for remote solar panels, I guess. But ours are so easy to work with, ninety-five percent of the time sitting in bright sunlight atop our trailer.

Oh — there is shore power too. But Jim enjoys seeing how many days we can thrive on just batteries and solar re-charging. Call it our small contribution to reduced carbon footprint.

See you down the road!
Jim and Debbie

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©2007-2013 Dreamstreamr

New Make-up Air Vent for our Aluminum Home

Full-timing allows us to experiment with strategies for heating, cooling, venting, cooking in our RV. We thought for years about installing a make-up air vent.  We guardedly use an unvented 6,000 btu catalytic heater, and use the windows and roof vents to properly add oxygen and remove products of combustion. Safety concerns prevent us from using the heater when we’re asleep or without adequate ventilation.

Otherwise, we enjoy the soft warm glow and heating without any electricity. These benefits are especially nice when we are dry-camping and want to make our batteries last longer. Full-timers might have more opportunities to use this convenient heater, but it would work for anyone.

The heater has explicit recommendations for 24 square inches minimum each for fresh air intake and exhaust. No matter which window we use we seem to have a draft. Rain can limit which window we open. An intake located near the heater would serve the heater as well as the oven and stove.

We’ve read and heard that Wally Byam, Airstream Company’s founder, had gravity floor vents in his own Airstream trailers. Without air conditioning, the best place to find cool air is under the trailer. Jim proposed numerous times installing a gravity floor vent near the oven or catalytic heater. But management would not approve the project.

Jim found an approvable solution recently while we were at Alumapalooza at the Airstream Factory. Airstream Company (and others, too) installs Salem vents in the Eddie Bauer version of their trailers to vent flammable gases from motorcycles or gas cans in the trailer. Easy to install and operate, weatherproof, and durable, these are neat vents.

The vents can be a little difficult to source using the patent name, Salem vent. Just today, Jim found an easier name for search — 2-way hingeless vent. Several sources list these for under $30. Ours came with an abs plastic trim ring for the interior.

Here are pictures of the install:

Protect the aluminum before marking the cut lines

Protect the aluminum before marking the cut lines

Cut completed and pilot holes drilled to inside

Cut completed and pilot holes drilled to inside

Small holes for locating, large hole for starting saw blade

Small holes for locating, large hole for starting saw blade from indoors

Interior cut, fortunately it's above the 110vac wiring for receptacle

Interior cut, fortunately it’s above the 110vac wiring for receptacle

Vent sealed and riveted.  When caulk skins, we'll cut the Olympic rivets pins

Vent sealed and riveted. When the caulk skins, we’ll cut the Olympic rivets pins

This page cross-references with our web page about catalytic heater venting and about Salem Vent.

 

 

See you down the road!

Jim and Debbie

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©2007-2013 Dreamstreamr

Solar Charging Stuff for RVs We Should Have Known

winter tilt position on our roof

winter tilt position on our roof

You might be interested in buying into the quietest electrical power generator? There is no fuel to keep up with and pour (and spill). Maintenance is very minimal for the panels, just wiping them off, ensuring they are well-attached to the RV, and keeping the wires secure and free of chafing. You should already be tending your batteries to keep them clean, topped off with distilled water (unless yours are “no-maintenance”), and keeping the connections tightened, no matter whether you have solar panels or not.

pair of 125 watt solar panels

pair of 125 watt solar panels

Solar makes sense for more RVers than just full-timers. These roof-top battery chargers allow us to go most of the year without ever needing to use the trailer’s electrically-powered battery charger. A small solar charging system can tend your batteries for your RV without any shore power connections. A larger system can keep up with all your daily uses for your RV’s batteries including fans, lights, water pump, and even ham radio operations.

from http://www.solarchoice.net.au/blog/wp-content/uploads/Module-cost-vs-BoS-costs-on-average.jpgStill higher end systems can also provide all the DC, or 12 volt power, as well as your 110 volt power for your RV. You could run your microwave, hair dryer, coffee pot and more from your batteries, all recharged with solar panels. Beware though, there are costs to all this. The trick, as with so many things, is to strike your optimal balance between cost and benefit.

Before you consider buying anything, study up a bit.  Don’t buy anything yet!  The two links that follow this paragraph provide helpful information about solar panels, controllers, what sizes are useful.  

Look at http://www.windsun.com, halfway down the page. They have “Solar Information Pages” with good learning info about solar.

Look at amsolar’s rv_solar_education pages. They provide good learning info.

Before you buy anything, read this short post we wrote about installing a meter to measure and record battery usage and capacity.  We highly recommend anyone consider carefully this tool before spending a dime on changing the size of their battery bank or adding more solar panels.  If you don’t know what size shoe you wear, why would you order a pair of shoes without being fitted first?<

Trimetric Meter by our fridge

Trimetric Meter by our fridge

The meter we installed in October 2013, in case you did NOT read the article I just told you to, is a Trimetric 2025RV.  It costs $180 from BestConverter, including the required shunt. You can see it through this link. We bought the approx 25′ of control wire from a really neat store in Boise Idaho, they spooled off 25′ of Cat5 for about $5.  We had the battery cables we needed to connect the meter in-line with our batteries and the house.

No one told us to have a cooling off period or to learn more.  Well, we learned more anyhow — we studied our fannies off learning about so many sizes and brands of solar.  Solar was smoking hot in 2007, the dealers could not keep good panels on the shelves.  Same with charge controllers (you already learned in the first two links way above, these are very important), they were often unavailable.

We somehow stumbled upon a very nicely documented description of installing solar panels ON OUR VERY RV — Yep, Don had installed a pair of solar panels atop a 2005 Airstream CCD 25 trailer.  Wow, we’re supposed to do this.  We tried to be just like Don.  We ordered the same kit from the same place, put our panels in the same spot, installed our charge controller in the same blank panel.  This is too easy!

Well, it wasn’t quite so simple.  You see, you have some days luckier than others.  The day we installed our solar panels was a less lucky day.  Jim drilled holes in our trailer’s roof. Eight 5/16″ holes, four feet for each panel, didn’t take very long to make.  The panels attached easily to the roof with the supplied mounting hardware and . . .

Inside the trailer the 12 volt lights didn’t work anymore.  Oh, it’s probably something really simple.  No. A wire must be cut somewhere from all that drilling.

see the patched hand-hole from patching wires?

see the patched hand-hole from patching wires?

After much snarling and searching and spending sleepless nights, Jim found the one hole in which the drill bit had touched two wires.  The insulation stripped off, the two wires were crossed and shorting out.  Finding the problem was the hard part.  Jim spent only an hour or two fixing these two wires and our solar charging system has worked fantastically since.

Here is one more link, to a seller with very nearly the same system we bought over five years ago. This is our favorite system, the 270 watt one, close to what we have but seems a bit sharper and is certainly much less expensive than what we paid then. The technology has improved in five years, although we’ve read the manufacturing may be lower quality. The article we read from NY Times reported a case where the failure rate for newly manufactured panels has risen from below 5% to between 13 and 22%.

P1120863We are now more advanced users due to lots of practice — full-time with the solar charging system for over five years.  All the components are original, but we’ve enlarged the battery storage to four 6v golf cart batteries.  Jim can now rest assured of having full power for his ham radios before sun-up tomorrow, every day. Debbie rests confident Jim will not once ask her, “are you still using that light or may I turn it off for you?”  We have lots of battery capacity.

arm uni go powerJim installed a neat tilting system for our solar panels. Our panels can be up to 30% more effective by tilting than if lying flat on our roof.  This is especially useful in winter months, when the sun is much lower angle in the sky and solar gain is much harder to obtain.  

both panels now tilt at once

both panels now tilt at once

Our panels, tilted up, are ready to get all the solar they can in winter.  At least each quarter-year, Jim changes the amount of tilt to correspond with the sun’s higher, or lower, path across the sky.  And no, we do not travel down the road with the solar panels tilted up. The panels lie flat on the roof for travel.  Jim can easily and quickly tilt the panels, standing on a ladder leaned against the trailer’s side.

See you down the road!

Jim and Debbie

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©2007-2013 Dreamstreamr

Alumapalooza, to Make & Renew Friendships

We are tickled we could attend Alumapalooza 2013 at Airstream’s trailer factory campus. Last year we missed by a few days attending and immediately marked our calendar for this year’s festivities. Lucky for Jim, the world’s largest ham radio convention occurred a couple of weeks before so he didn’t miss it, either. And we had time in between to visit with good friends in Dayton OH.

Our first Airstream trailer, in 2004, led us to many enjoyable weekends RVing throughout VA, NC, SC, and GA. We didn’t go much further afield in our first two years because we were working very full-time. Membership in the airstream owners club introduced us to our favorite thing in RVing, making friends and spending time with great people. Our number one priority for nearly every rally we attend is PEOPLE! We enjoy renewing friendships and making new friends.

Our home awaits her adjustments

Our home awaits her adjustments

We arrived at the Airstream Factory campus a few days before the Alumapalooza event. Our almost nine-year old trailer receives a lot of loving maintenance from Jim but there are a few jobs he doesn’t mind passing on. These we save for our occasional visits to Airstream Factory service in Jackson Center. As good as the service is, the visit to the factory is great icing on the cake for us.

Jim and Nick check out Mike's chairs

Jim and Nick check out Mike’s chairs

Every time we visit the factory campus we meet and spend time with fun and very interesting people. This year, because of the impending Alumapalooza rally, the camping area was chockablock full of fun folks. We enjoyed talking in the customer service waiting and camping areas, meeting people from NY City, San Diego, and many places in between.

Big Shaggy Buffalo Ranch sells wonderful bison steaks

Big Shaggy Buffalo Ranch sells wonderful bison steaks

A favorite Airstream rallies meet-up for us is with friends Matt and Beth. We enjoy their company and have had great expeditions with them. This time we rode down to Big Shaggy Buffalo Ranch somewhere near Sidney OH and then to The Spot in Sidney.

THE place to eat in Sidney

THE place to eat in Sidney


If we didn’t want the best pie or bison burger in all of Ohio, Sidney would still be a neat visit. It still boasts a downtown square, solidly anchored by the Shelby County Courthouse, surrounded by neat old buildings. One of many is the very notable Peoples Savings and Loan designed by Louis Sullivan in 1917. Click on that link to see Mary Ann Sullivan’s great photo work of this important example of early modern American architecture. We did eat in The Spot. The food is tasty and we’ll go back.

Our real reason for this visit, though, was to attend Alumapalooza 4. Are we ever glad we did! Great seminars, fun chidren’s programs, no flag ceremony (gasp!), inventive approach to arranging afternoon socials locations, and the best run rally announcements and door prize sessions we’ve seen in almost nine years.

R&B Events (Rich and Brett and many good-hearted crew) planned and orchestrated a week filled with fun events for attendees of all ages. Our airstream owners club could take a few lessons from this great rally. It seemed the assigned representatives of the international airstream club might have remained rooted in the vendor tent instead of attending the great seminars. Fortunately Joe and Sandy Perryman (WBCCI officers) were browsing the activities and seminars and taking notes — good for you two!

Jim joked with the current president of the international airstream owners club recently about R&B Events success in operating rallies. Jim asked John Boutwell if perhaps R&B Events should take over the annual airstream club rally, an event which is shrinking rapidly and appears nearly ready for withdrawal of life support. If the choice becomes shutting down the annual international rally or giving it away then MAYBE our airstream club’s leaders might condescend to allow professional management.

Some of you know R&B Events recently took over the former Florida State Rally — the airstream club gave it up for dead and R&B said, “May we?” Jim postulated that R&B Events could operate in the black, unlike the airstream owners club international rally. Too, the rally would be a real kick. R&B Events know how to excite things, and aren’t bound so tightly to toilsome traditions.

We’ve followed Airstream Life magazine and Man in the Maze blog for years. We met Rich (the R of R&B) in Perry GA in 2007, when we were embarking on our full-timing and he was full-timing in his Airstream bunkhouse trailer. We enjoyed swapping tales then and occasionally since. Brett usually was moving too fast for us to catch up with him at airstream club events, but we had admired his charm as an emcee and from watching him work with people. They’re great people we enjoy seeing and talking with.

Would we recommend an R&B Events rally? Absolutely, before we had ever attended one. Their track record is fantastic. We already committed for next year’s Florida rally named Alumaflamingo, the replacement for Florida State Rally. We’re sure it will beat the pants off any Florida State Rally we’ve attended, and we have attended several over the past six years. Why would we have more faith in R&B Events than in the prior organization?

Rich & Brett keep it short and to the point -- FUN

Rich & Brett keep it short and to the point — FUN

Simply stated, these guys are fresh, dynamic, insightful, energized, and keen to try interesting and different concepts to attract appreciative attendees. Oh, and they know how to run introductions, announcements, and door prizes meetings – crisply and without demonstrating too much attention to themselves or to their admittedly recent traditions. We look forward to our next R&B event. Thanks Rich and Brett, for showing how much fun a large rally can be!

See you down the road!

Jim and Debbie

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©2007-2013 Dreamstreamr

Five Reasons To Not Move Into an RV

If you move into an RV, you might:

1 spend less money;
2 spend more time out of doors;
3 spend more time enjoying yourself;
4 meet new neighbors all over the country;
5 live in 75 degrees year-round.

Sound crazy? Here’s the breakdown:

1. Spend less as full-timers? It depends. We spend less than if we maintained a house AND traveled. If you maintained a house and did NOT travel, and your house was modest and not requiring a lot of capital improvements, you might live as inexpensively as we do. We’ll cover this in more detail soon.

2. Many full-timers spend a lot of time outdoors. Two key factors — the weather’s always 75 degrees (well, we try), and our house is really really small. People working out-of-doors might spend as much outdoor time as we do. So do some pro athletes and retired people who are committed golfers, tennis players, bicyclists, walkers or hikers. But we wonder if people with larger houses spend more time in their houses than those with houses less than, say, 400 square feet. There’s not much inside requiring our attention. We’re outside a lot, year ’round, and love it.

3. Not saying yard work is a toilsome chore, necessarily. We don’t much miss doing yard work, although it was a great stress reliever after work to putz around outside. As much as we love maintaining our little house, the 3,000sf house was a bit much. It seemed we were mostly trying to catch up with the home’s needs. This was owing largely to our career’s long work hours and our penchant, in the last several years, to disappear in our airstream for most weekends. Now there’s very little work we need attend to. No snow to shovel, almost no painting, very few honey-do’s to postpone. We like living outside, sleeping inside.

4. One rarely meets a stranger in a campground or RV resort. Openness to meeting people just seems to go with roving the countries. It’s probably because we can so easily identify with certain commonalities and strike up a comfortable conversation. Usually we end up sharing contact information and mutually promising to look each up one another down the road sometime. And sometimes we meet folks who we’d want to be neighbors with forever.

5. see #2, above.

6. Okay, our math might be off — this is number six of five. We offer this additional item: We know North American geography far better than we did ten years ago. How about American and Canadian history? In fits and spurts, we are gaining on these too.

If you don’t move into an RV, you might be someone who can match all five benefits in your own neighborhood. A lot of people enjoy themselves perfectly well without having ever owned an RV. Some of us are escapees, we’ve slipped away from the commitment to sticks and bricks abodes. Many who move into RVs subsequently return to life in sticks and bricks homes, so they might have not loved one or more of the above or something else may have happened.

Full-time living in an RV isn’t for everyone. Unless you also maintain a house or barn, you might not be able to withstand the loss of your prized collection of this or that. An RV may be too confining a space for you to live in day after day. You might not love moving your house, ever. (whoops, we’re almost verging on a semantics discussion here — “what is full timing and what is not”?)

We meet folks almost weekly who tell us, “Yes, we full-timed for n years (choose any number from 2 to 18 for n) and really liked it”. They aren’t doing it now. We’ve never met one who will say they didn’t like full-time rving. Most seem wistful they aren’t doing it now. Or we may be projecting . . .

See you down the road!

Jim and Debbie

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©2007-2013 Dreamstreamr